T HE deforestation resulting from illegal logging is a 'catastrophe' according to the State Secretary for the Environment Dr Mok Mareth, and he admits his department "is powerless to act."
Dr Mareth says the government has issued licenses to eleven companies to legally cut a total of 300,000 cubic meters of wood per year.
But this is dwarfed by environmental technical advisers' estimates of 1,700,000 cubic meters of illegal cutting per year.
A Mekong Committee report estimated 60 percent of the country was covered in forest in 1992, but this has been reduced to 49 percent according to senior forestry official Mr Sadoff, from his recent analysis of satellite data.
Dr Mareth said: "The situation is really very delicate. My officers cannot get to the remote rural areas and can only speculate as to what is really going on.
"Provinces are controlled by governors who sometimes pursue their own interests to the detriment of the State's.
Dr Mareth said local authorities were irresponsible and incompetent and blamed deforestation on inadequate government presence and control in remote areas.
Dr Mareth's department, the Secretariat of the Environment, has some powers but is not a separate Ministry in the Royal government.
A source in the Secretariat said the Royal government setup the department in a trendy window-dressing-exercise to make the government appear environmentally sensitive.
A Cambodian environmental expert, who requested anonymity, said: "Currently, commercial companies do not record what they log. There is no way to tell how much illegal cutting they do.
"The companies are owned by Thai, Malay, Indonesian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Cambodian nationals.
"It is up to the governments in these countries to put pressure on logging companies to be environmentally responsible."
Dr Mareth said he would like to see logging concession licenses given to local companies working along the principles of sustainable development.
He added that he hoped his department could involve the local population more actively in safeguarding their natural treasures.
The environmental expert said: "Ideally, essential forestry rules need to be observed to limit the ecological damage being inflicted upon forest resources.
"Disrupting the ecological balance can lead to drying-up of rivers in the dry season, floods during the rainy season, an increase in pests, changes in climate, more soil erosion and clogging-up of irrigation systems, as well as the disappearance of wildlife and rare species."
"Illegal logging is not limited to politically sensitive areas. Ethnic minorities which live in the northeastern provinces pursue slash-and-burn policies which destroy around 50,000 hectares of forest per year.
"Traditional lifestyles are hard to change and money for education programs is scarce.
"Seven million hectares of forest remain in Cambodia. It is up to Cambodian and Foreign governments to act now or else in ten years at the present rate of destruction there will be no forest left."
A source at the Environment Secretariat denounced the government's move on June 17 to assign control over timber exporting to the Ministry of Defense.
He said: "This move is dangerous for democracy and the government's stability. Experience shows that a self-financing army rapidly escapes civil government control."